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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Love Girl And The Innocent
Southwark Playhouse Autumn 2013

Director Matthew Dunster has been trying to put this play about a Soviet gulag on for the last ten years. And it has been over three decades since it was last seen in London. There are good reasons for such a long wait. 

Not only does Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s play require a cast of 50 and a series of cinematic locations, but it is also a play written with a prose writer’s rather than playwright’s sensibility. 

Often this means that the dialogue serves to develop characters rather than dramatic action, making it difficult at times to sustain the audience’s investment. Though the narrative abounds in conflicting situations between prisoners, these are explosive and violent rather than subtextual.

Finally, the thematic core of the play – the question of whether it is possible to maintain love and moral innocence in a battle for survival – remains largely peripheral to the writer's painstaking efforts at painting an epic allegorical depiction of Stalinism and its inherent corruption.

Dunstan’s highly polished production goes a long way in creating an intriguing world on the stage which does keep these thematic concerns current and relevant, even if his adaptation for a cast of 16 is mostly concerned with resolving the original’s logistical rather than dramaturgical problems. Imaginatively lit by Joshua Carr, Anna Fleichele’s set is inspired, evocative and versatile. 

The actors inhabit this world with imperceptibly choreographed ease and palpable ensemble spirit, and Dunstan pulls out some really effective performances from Emily Dobbs as Granya, multiroling Jack Johns and the admirably understated leads Cian Barry as Nemov and Rebecca Oldfield as Lyuba. 

Was the wait worth it, however? I’m not entirely sure, but Jagged Fence’s unadulterated collective commitment to the piece is certainly worth the ticket price.

Duska Radosavljevic

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Review - The Love Girl And The Innocent - Southwark Playhouse 2013